Monday, July 16, 2012

Generous Giving - Reflections for Transplant Week

I guess it’s one of those unspoken rules.

You don’t choose the same reading two Sundays running.

So to choose basically the same reading four Sundays in a row is pushing it a bit.

Maybe it’s because I sense it’s something we each of us need to take on board individually.

Maybe it’s because I sense it’s something we need to take on board collectively as a church family.

Or maybe, just maybe, because it’s something I need to take on board for myself at the moment.

We’ve looked at the birds of the air, we’ve looked at the grass that’s here today and gone tomorrow, we’ve looked at the lilies … well actually they weren’t lilies but poppies and thought not even Solomon in all his glory could be clothed such as these.

And each time we’ve headed for that final verse that seems to sum it all up.

So do not worry about tomorrow,
For tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Trite.  Obvious.  Goes without saying.

And yet it is something so very special.

I was talking to someone this week who had just discovered the sacrament of the present moment.  Lives live in the now and live life to the full here and now.

What a wonderful piece of graffiti on the  Guides graffiti wall for the Olympics.

Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery
Today is a gift
That’s why they call it ‘the present’.

But it’s easier said than done.

Clothes do matter, food does matter.  And as for all those anxiities they mmost certainly can get you down.

Do not worry is not only easier said than done but it’s something often best left unsaid.

Do not worry is so often the least helpful of all things one can ever say to someone who is filled with anxiety.

I guess that’s why Jesus doesn’t just say, Do not worry.

He provides antidotes to worry.

Think of the birds of the air.  Think of the flowers of the field.  And there is something wonderful to take us out of ourselves and into the mystery and the wonder of the world around us.

But here at the climax to this passage Jesus does something more.

He offers us something to focus on – quite deliberately, to turn our attention to.

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
And all these things will be given to you as well.

What’s Jesus inviting us to do?  Turn our eyes to God.  Seek out the kingdom of God – seek ye first the kingdom of God and all the wonderful righteousness and goodness and holiness of God?

That’s certainly something good to do – turn to God and see things differently.

But is there something more going on here?

That word righteousness is a fascainting word.  Yes, it can indicate all that’s good and holy and right about God.  But is a word translated ‘justice’.

Then I noticed from the footnotes in the NRSV that the verse can be translated differently.

Some manuscripts don’t have ‘kingdom of God’ but just ‘kingdom’.  The Greek doesn’t necessarily imply ‘his’ righteousness … it could just as easily be translated without the ‘his’.

So, how about this for a different way of reading this verse.

Strive first for the kingdom and justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Maybe the antidote for that kind of anxiety that is absorbed in all the worries that weigh you down is to strive first for the kingdom and justice.

Where do we find the values of the kingdom and that justice that we can focus on and find so helpful.

One wonderful passage is in Romans 12

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We all have a part to play

It all bows down to the most basic thing of all … Let love be genuine.

And it culminates in the most powerful of statement.

21Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good.

This is powerful stuff.

There are many wonderful things we can do.

This month we are supporting a charity in our communion collection which gives each of us a challenge – not just to give of our money, but to give of ourselves.

Janet Brown is going to take up the story.

"The timing is excellent as this is Transplantweek.  There is a website specifically for this as well as the NKF (National Kidney Federation ) site. 

Janet shared her own story of kidney failure and twelve years ago having a kidney transplant.  She spoke movingly of her indebtedness to someone who 'gave' her a new life.  She spoke of the way 90% of people would be willing to accept a transplant if needed, but only 30% have signed up on the register.  Janet reminded us that it is no longer adequate to carry a donor card, but people have to sign up on the Register.  And also let their relatives know.  Janet explained that in the event of a donation becoming possible (and she spoke of one person of 104 whose cornea was suitable for transplant!) the family would always be consulted.  So it was important they were aware of your wishes.

Janet spoke of the place of her own faith when faced with her illness.  She spoke of the place of prayer in her situation.

She found she couldn't pray for a transplant  to become available because it meant someone had to die. Janet spoke of the way she struggled to pray for physical healing for myself in this situation.

Janet went on to say how wonderful it was to know she was being encircled with prayer, and upheld by prayer.  "It is at times like this when we can't pray for ourselves the knowledge that others are praying for us is so valuable."  Janet went on to stress how important it was to have prayer groups, email prayer chains and the like to strengthen that sense of being upheld in prayer.

"In my case when recovering from the transplant it was almost a physical feeling of being uplifted that I knew so many were praying for me."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

More than a handshake

Maybe it’s because I am the age I am … if the troubles started in 1969 and lasted until the Good Friday Settlement they occupied most of my adult life.

Maybe it’s because I have a particular fondness for the symbolism.

Maybe it’s because it’s because it’s been in the football news recently – a ritual in a football game that goes without notice until one player refuses to do it with an another …and it becomes such news.

It is so familiar, I find myself doing it all the time.  I take it so much for granted.  It somehow made me sit up and listen to discover it could be so much to the fore in the news this week.

When the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuiness I found it remarkably moving.

So much remains to be done in Northern Ireland.  Disturbing to think there are no fewer than 80 so-called peace walls dividing communities.  Disturbing to think that the youngsters of Northern Ireland are for the most part educated in sectarian schools where they never meet youngsters from the other side of the religious divide.  I have always felt, and still feel, that maybe the one big initiative the churches could take in Northern Ireland would be to withdraw from education and integrate the schools.

So much remains to be done to seal a fragile peace.

And yet, and yet … it was so moving to see that handshake.

There is something very special about a handshake.  In our churches we use a handshake as we welcome people into membership of the church, we use a handshake often when we appoint people to office in the church.  And it always riles me when people regard it as ‘just a handshake’.  There’s much more in what we do.

The handshake has a very special place in the Bible and in the New Testament.

What is described there is a very particular handshake – and a very particular symbolism.;  It is one I think we could all take to heart and take into our selves.

Saul of Tarsus had been very much involved in the persecution of the followers of Jesus in the very early days of the church.  So much so that he was the one to look after everyone’s belongings as they were involved in stoning to death the first so-called martyr of the church, Stephen.  It is that determination to do away with the followers of Jesus that sends Saul in pursuit towards the Syrian city of Damascus.

Then it is that he encounters Christ for himself.  And it is a life-transforming experience for Paul.

He spends time with the believers in Damascus before himself having to flee the city under cover of dark in a basket that is lowered over the wall.

What happens to Paul next is not very clear.  At some point very early on is a long period when he takes time to reflect.

In one of the first letters he came to write as he set about the task of travelling the Mediterranean world spreading the Gospel of Christ particularly in the Gentile, Roman world, he reflectee on that period and how it came to an end.

It was for fourteen long years that he had time to himself, time to reflect, time to take stock.  And then he went up to Jerusalem – to the very group of believers he had been so instrumental in persecuting.  He went in the company of Barnabas who had been such a wonderful source of encouragement to him.

Clearly there was a lot of dispute and ill feeling – a great difference of opinion that emerges.  He describes the tensions there are as he meets with those acknowledged to be leaders.  And then there comes that wonderful moment when those who were acknowledged to be the pillars of the church recognise something special in Paul.

The moment of recognition, the moment of commissioning is sealed by a handshake.

when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.

It’s the model we use in welcoming people into church membership as we extend the right hand of fellowship to them.

We get to know people.  Then we recognise the grace of God at work within them, then we welcome them by giving the right hand of fellowship – then there is a task to do and a challenge to remember the poor.

It is a wonderful framework.

The handshake that binds us together is a handshake that has something very special about it.

It is linked with the recognition of the grace that had been given them, and is described as the right hand of ‘fellowship’.

Both grace and fellowship are favourite words of Paul’s.  Indeed the word ‘fellowship’ occurs mostly in Paul’s letters.

With one other word they go to the very heart of our faith.

All three of those words are brought together by Paul in a prayer he includes at the very end of the 2nd letter to the Corinthians.  That’s the prayer that we use at almost every service in the words of blessing we say together at the very end.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is special about Christ is the grace he has which reaches out to people before ever they have done anything to deserve it, with a love that is free and all-forgiving.

What does it mean to have such grace in our hearts.

Maybe it was not without coincidence that the Queen’s visit to Northern Ireland took her to Enniskillen.

It is twenty-five years ago that Gordon Wilson ‘held his daughter’s hand as they lay trapped beneath a mountain of rubble’.  Marie, a nurse, died.  He later said it was something he had struggled to live up to, struggled to live out, it was simply something that came to him and he blurted out in an interview.  But what he said registered with so many, with my generation.

I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her.  But I bear no ill will.  I bear no grudge …. That will not bring her back …. Don’t ask me, please, for a purpose…. I don’t have an answer.  But I know there has to be a plan.  If I didn’t think that, I would commit suicide.  It’s part of a greater plan … and we shall meet again.

[Source:  Johann christoph Arnold, The Lost Art ofForgiving (Plough Publishing House, 1998)

We say it glibly at so many of our services.

But maybe it is as we repeatedly say it, as we come back to it time and time again, that slowly it takes root in our heart … and if this ‘grace’ of our Lord Jesus Christ seeps more deeply inside us, maybe, just maybe it will come out in a graciousness we can extend to others.

Five letters, one word
A name, a trait, a gift
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Transforms and renews
Beyond all our imagining.

If we are religious … and I guess that’s something that brings us together, then the way we think of God will shape our view of the world, our attitude towards others and the very  people we are.

For me, more and more, I want to come to God not by arguing from first principles some philosophical notion of God.  I wasn’t to start with Jesus – with his teaching, the things he did – his whole life.  As I grapple with the grace of the one who I regard as Lord, this Jesus Christ, then that begins to give God a shape.  And it is a wonderful shape.

Three words, each so short
And yet so filled with meaning.
God                is                 love

That is a remarkable claim.  And it shapes my understanding of God and my readiness to seek to rebuilt, to renew, to re-order things.

Those were troubled times in the 80’s.

Within the year the Lockerbie disaster happened.  The moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was asked to preach at a memorial service.  What he had to say was forthright … in some ways prophetic.  Very powerful and it went to the heart of the Christian faith.  It was doubly powerful, because he himself had been through tragedy in the six months before with the tragic loss of his wife and a time of bereavement he had struggled with – in fact this was his first public appearance.

He was forthright in what he said as he allowed those little words to resonate deep within him …

“Justice, yes; retaliation, no.

“For, if we move in the way of retaliation we move right outside of the fellowship of the Christ’s suffering, ousdie of the Divine consolation. There is nothing that way but bitterness and the destruction of our own humanity.”

The genuineness of what he had to say struck home, so much that when the Dunblane killings of children took place seven years later, he was the one the families invited to speak at that memorial service.  [source: Guardian Obituary by Brian Wilson, June 2005.

Maybe we need to say it over and over again, so that when we need it those words have become part of us …

The love of God
cleanses and heals Deep down within.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The Love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

Fellowship is that close sharing that binds us together.

I think Paul knew how big a thing that is.

It’s massive.

I loved the phrase he coined – the right hand of fellowship.

But read on in the way he uses that word in his letters and you get the feeling that he knew it was not something possible to achieve just in your own strength.   It’s something that calls on a strength and a power from beyond ourselves.

That’s what we draw on when in our Christian faith we realise that we cannot get by without that strength that is deep within, that stregnth that is from far beyond, that strength that is none other than the Holy Spirit of God.

Ten letters, one word
A simple handshake
Fellowship - not just among friends but
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
That binds us together and together with God.

The Good Friday of the Good Friday agreement is one of those occasions that sticks in my mind.  Would they, wouldn’t they sign.  We were on tenterhooks.  We shared our Good Friday service in the town centre.   Our free churches joining together.

I then joined the community at Prinknash for their Good Friday service.  And coming out I tuned into the radio – and then it was that the news started to come through.  The peace agreement had been signed.

There is still a long way to go.  As too many of the interviews suggested, there is still too much cynicism around.

But I for one was deeply moved to find so much significance vested in such a powerful symbol.  I want to capture the spirit of that in the living of my life …

Five letters, one word
A name, a trait, a gift
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Transforms and renews
Beyond all our imagining.

Three words, each so short
And yet so filled with meaning.
God is love
The love of God
cleanses and heals
Deep down within.

Ten letters, one word
A simple handshake
Fellowship - not just among friends but
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
That binds us together and together with God.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light